LAS VEGAS (AP) — Even with his team down by 13 points in the second half, New Mexico State coach Paul Weir implored his team not to panic.
After all, there were still more than 15 minutes left. And, despite a poor-shooting first half, Weir figured the Aggies were due for a good run.
He sure was right.
New Mexico State rallied in the second half to defeat Cal State Bakersfield 70-60 on Saturday night and win the Western Athletic Conference Tournament title for the fifth time in the past six years.
The Aggies (28-5) used a 21-2 run in the second half after Bakersfield (22-9), the WAC regular-season champion, took a 39-26 lead.
"For 28 minutes, they were beating us pretty good," said Weir, the Aggies' first-year coach. "Thankfully, we were able to get on a run. Even at halftime, we felt like we were within striking distance."
But New Mexico State went on a 3-point binge, getting long-distance baskets from Ian Baker and Chancellor Ellis to pull the Aggies into a 41-41 tie. Ellis' 3 with 9:11 left put New Mexico State ahead for good.
Eli Chuha led New Mexico State with 16 points, and Baker had 15, including going 3 of 4 from beyond the arc.
"I just told myself I had to be aggressive," Baker said. "Those were pretty much the best looks I got all game. Credit to Bakersfield. They made it hard for me, as they usually do. I just happened to get a look at the basket and took advantage of it."
The Aggies were 6 of 12 on 3-pointers in the second half.
"They made some 3s," Bakersfield coach Rod Barnes said. "That was the difference in the game."
Dedrick Basile scored 17 points to lead Cal State Bakersfield, which might have worn down after playing a four-overtime game the night before, beating Utah Valley 81-80. It held a 29-20 lead at halftime and seemed comfortably in front.
"We don't want to make excuses," Barnes said. "Some of our guys played 50-some minutes. It's kind of tough to return from that, but we've got to give those guys the credit. They made the plays they needed to make."
Bakersfield's tenacious defense allowed the Roadrunners to pull away in the first half, holding the Aggies to just two baskets in the first 17½ minutes of the game and forcing 12 turnovers in that span. Meantime, the Roadrunners made 12 of 25 shots and had nine steals.
But New Mexico State stormed back in the second half, using its big run to get back to the NCAA Tournament.
New Mexico State tied the game at 41 when Jemerrio Jones made a jumper, and the Aggies then took the lead on a 3 by Ellis with 9:05 remaining.
"We were telling each other just stay calm, don't let them speed us up, which is what they were doing in the first half," Baker said. "Don't get down on each other, let the game come to us. We knew they played a four-overtime game (Friday night), so we knew eventually they would break."
The Aggies kept the heat on with their outside shooting, and Bakersfield was unable to return fire.
"They did a great job," Barnes said. "After we had them down, they really pushed back on us."
New Mexico: This win might have been sweet revenge for last season's WAC title game. The top-seeded Aggies lost at the buzzer when Basile made a 3-pointer at the buzzer.
New Mexico State: The Aggies earned the conference's automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament and await to see Sunday where they'll be headed.
Cal State Bakersfield: The Roadrunners will wait to see if they get an at-large berth Sunday for the NCAA Tournament.
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